Since United Methodist pastors move every five years on the average, one thing most of us become good at is saying goodbye. However, it is usually us saying that as we prepare to move on to our next appointment at a different church. Occasionally, though, we have to say goodbye to people in our congregations who are moving on to their next stage in the journey of life. We say goodbye to the kids as they graduate from high school and leave for college, the military, or for a job opportunity. We say goodbye to young people who are relocating because the job is moving elsewhere. We say goodbye to adults who feel the need to move back home to take care of ill and aging parents, often in their last years of life. And we say goodbye to older folks who are moving to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Come to think of it, we say goodbye a lot more often than we want to. Such has been my week. The Post community, First United Methodist Church, and I have been saying goodbye to some of our own as they prepare to move this weekend.
I first got to know Gene and Velta when I was appointed as the pastor to First United Methodist Church three years ago. They, more than a lot of people I have come to know during my ministry career, quickly came to be my family. They welcomed me with open arms, fed me on more than one occasion, introduced me to people, and invited me to get involved in the community. A lot of people did this for my husband and me, and we are indeed grateful. But Gene and Velta became family quickly. I think this happened really for three reasons, none of them have anything to do with church other than it being the entity that brought us together. Reason number one is that their last name is familiar and comfortable. King was my maiden name. I knew it and lived it before Guillermo ever became a possibility. Reason number two is that they are about the same age my parents would be if they were still alive. Yet it is reason number three that is perhaps the biggest one. I will never forget that Thursday afternoon in early December a couple of years ago. At our youth meal the night before, I mentioned that I had to go to Lubbock the next day for a meeting and then to finish my Christmas shopping. As luck would have it, Thursday turned out to be a typical West Texas winter day. It was cold and cloudy. It was alternating between snow flurries, drizzle, and sleet. And the wind – oh, the wind. If you’ve been in this area long enough (and a month or two is long enough), you know what I am talking about. The wind was brisk, and it was hard. It was hard enough that white caps were literally forming on the puddles standing at every intersection in Lubbock. Right before dusk I got a text message from Velta. All it said was, “Are you home yet?” Nothing else. My heart kind of did the flutter that pastors know so well. The flutter that means, “Oh no. What happened? Who is sick or hurt? Do I need to rework my plans so I can meet someone at the hospital? Who and what do I need to pray for? How bad is it?” THAT flutter. I quickly texted back saying I was still in Lubbock and asking what I could do for them. The reply was a nothing. More specifically, it was something along the lines of, “We don’t need anything. The weather is so bad. I was just checking to make sure you were ok.” It was the last line of the text, though, that brought the family connection. It said, “Call or text when you get home so I know you made it safely.” Ever since then, I have considered Gene and Velta to be my church Mom and Dad. I don’t know that I ever really told them that, and I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to do so before they leave in a few short days. But, Gene and Velta, aka Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, please know how much it is appreciated. You will always have a special place in my heart.
In Hebrews 13:2 the author tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” I have benefitted from Gene and Velta’s hospitality. Many others have as well. In their quest to follow Jesus, they have taken these words from Hebrews to heart. I am not an angel, but if I were I don’t think there could be a better way to be loved than by someone extending the love and grace of Jesus the way they do on a daily basis.
We can’t all be like Gene and Velta. Frankly, the world would be a boring place if we were. What makes us special as human beings is the diversity that God created in each one of us. However, I think we could all learn a lesson about being Christ to our brothers and sisters by looking at how Gene and Velta act out their faith. Reach out to others. Welcome them. Feed them. Extend an invitation. Let them know you care. These are things we are all capable of. God has instilled this kind of deep and genuine hospitality in us. If we all tapped in to that, even just a little bit, it would make a huge difference to someone. If we all tapped in to that just a little bit more than a little bit, can you imagine the impact it would have on the world?
We said our formal goodbyes to Gene and Velta in our worship service on Sunday as we laid hands on them, prayed over them, and wished them well on the next chapter on their lives. But I want to take this opportunity to tell them goodbye one more time. You are leaving us with huge holes in our hearts. You make this world a better place because of your love for Jesus and for God’s precious children. I pledge to look at your example of sharing Christ’s love and grace and to let God work through me every day so all of us can come further into God’s light.
For now, let us remember that saying goodbye – whether it is to Gene and Velta or to anyone else – is not the end. It is merely a change. We will see each other again, perhaps in this life, perhaps not until the next. Until then may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26).